Nigeria: 2 arrested over presidential poison claim

AP News
Posted: Mar 14, 2011 8:21 AM
Nigeria: 2 arrested over presidential poison claim

A Nigerian politician from the country's Muslim north said he and a colleague were detained and questioned by secret police over allegations they plotted to poison the president, a claim he denied Monday.

The politicians' detention shows the growing unease among the nation's political elite as April elections loom.

Farouk Bibi Farouk told The Associated Press that he and Bello Abdulkadiri, both members of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, were questioned over allegations they planned to poison the Christian president from Nigeria's southern delta. President Goodluck Jonathan took power in May after the death of elected President Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim from the north.

They said "that I made a proposal that we poison the president so he has a short term like Yar'Adua," Farouk said. "I vehemently denied it."

Farouk said Nigeria's State Security Service held him for a day and interrogated him over the poisoning claim, which they said arose during a February meeting of northern leaders in Kaduna. Farouk said he never attended that meeting in Kaduna.

A State Security Service spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Nigerians go the polls April 9 to elect a new president in the oil-rich nation of 150 million people. Farouk served in the failed presidential bids of former military dictator Ibrahim Babangida and former vice president Atiku Abubakar _ two major northern leaders who challenged Jonathan.

The president also faces increasing opposition from northerners who are upset that someone from the region won't have another term as president. An unwritten power-sharing agreement in the ruling People's Democratic Party calls for a north-south rotation among presidential candidates. Critics say Jonathan short-circuited the arrangement through using the power of his office and billions of dollars in bribes through government spending to secure his nomination.

The State Security Service, feared among Nigerians, already has arrested one man with political connections ahead of the election. After an Oct. 1 double car bombing that killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more in Nigeria's capital, secret police arrested Raymond Dokpesi, owner of the Africa Independent Television network. Dokpesi served as Babangida's campaign manager and investigators claimed they had linked him to the bombing.

Dokpesi later was released and never charged over the bombing. Local newspapers have recently reported that he now sits in on Jonathan's campaign meetings.

Farouk said he was released on bail but must check in once a week as secret police continue to investigate the claims.

"I am a politician in this part of the world," he said. "I can accept a bit of harassment every once in a while."